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A Natural Progression

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The day should have gone off without a hitch- though, with the kind of people he associated with, Alfred wasn't sure how he'd gotten it into his mind that this day could go right in the slightest. Still, the morning had started out hopeful. 

 

It began with a trip to Fawcett City as the request of Bruce that he take some time for himself, so the man went to the sunshine city to catch up with a couple of old friends he hadn't seen since the '70s. He took a drive to the city from Gotham, a simple feat since the towns weren't but a couple of hours apart. 

 

Alfred parked in front of a public park, getting out of the old Bently and glancing around the district he was in. Fawcett City was a deceptively sunny town. It had a rustic charm to it that screamed 50's, and was a wonderful place to retire ever since Captain Marvel, the town's resident hero, had shown up to rapidly decrease the crime rate.

 

Nevertheless, like all cities, it had its problems. Fawcett had the highest homeless population in the country, something you couldn't tell by the fresh paint on various buildings and nice brick houses that lined the streets.

 

Still, if you could look past that and the occasional crazed maniac that needed a superhero to take it down, it was a lovely town.

 

Alfred's meet-up had gone smashingly, as the men reminisced about the glory days, caught up with one another and talked about what they were doing nowadays. Alfred mentioned he was still a butler for the Wayne family, surprising one of his colleagues and getting a laugh from another.

 

They met up in a malt shop that looked like it had been ripped right out of 1950's American suburbia and plopped into the middle of a busy shopping district, but it was a place that felt homey and warm and allowed the men to relax and just have a chat.

 

All in all, it went off without a hitch.

 

It wasn't until after Alfred had said goodbye to his colleagues and was leaving the shop that things went wrong.

 

He was walking down the sidewalk when he heard it- a small, almost non-existant whimper coming from an alleyway. He stopped in his tracks at the sound of it, turning his attention towards the alley and craning his neck to look.

 

Now, had this been Gotham, the smartest thing would be to move on before you stumbled into something you couldn't get yourself out of, but this was Fawcett. Alfred took a step towards the alley, listening closely and hearing a soft, watery wheeze come from further down in the alley.

 

The elderly man narrowed his eyes, looking around for what could be the source of such a noise in confusion. Another wheeze followed by a soft whimper. It reminded him of when Dick had first begun his training so many years ago and would push himself too hard in his training to become the Robin and live up to his caretaker's expectations.

 

It worried him as he took a step closer to the noise. Alfred paused, listening for the sound again before catching the sight of something moving subtly in the corner of his vision. The man walked over to it, peering around the side of a large green dumpster to find a small boy, no older than 10, sitting on the ground and clutching his abdomen. This child had to be the source of the sound if the pain in his face and the sweat covering his skin was anything to go by.

 

The boy glanced up and gasped slightly,  wincing in pain as his grip on his gut tightened. "It's alright, I'm not going to hurt you,"  Alfred said, settling down onto his knees. "What's wrong with your side, there?" he asked calmly and slowly.

 

The small boy with a mop of black hair and bright, iridescent blue eyes glanced up at him with fear, though Alfred intrinsically knew that this fear was fear for what would happen to him, rather than fearing Alfred himself.

 

He moved his hands, revealing a moist, dark red spot in his already dark red hoodie. Alfred's eyes widened as the child put his hands back, attempting to keep blood from flowing from the stab wound.

 

Alfred drew in a shaky breath, scooting closer to the boy on his knees, ignoring the moisture seeping into his freshly pressed pants and wanting nothing more than to scoop him up into his arms. "Can you move?" he asked slowly, attempting to check the boy over for any other injuries. The small raven shook his head.

 

Apart from what looked like a swelling and slightly purple ankle, along with a few scrapes, the only major wound was in the boy's abdomen."Will you let me help you?" Alfred asked slowly, unafraid to take matters into his own hands should the child refuse his help-- he wouldn't let him die on the sidewalk next to a dumpster. Thankfully, the nodded shakily, whimpering in pain as blood dripped from the soaked fabric around him.

 

"Okay, I'm going to pick you up now, son. Let's go," he said, reaching down and lifting the boy up into his arms. He was small and much too thin, but that wasn't something to think about right now. The boy rested his head against Alfred's chest, his eyes threatening to close as the old butler managed to get him into the passenger seat of the Bentley.

 

The child's breaths were labored as Alfred climbed into the driver's seat, backing up and racing towards the nearest hospital through the not-so-empty streets. He got barely a passing glance from bystanders, but this was Fawcett City-  a strange town where the residents questioned neither massive robots rampaging around or walking, talking crocodile men, so a speeding car just after sunset should be nothing out of the ordinary for them.

 

He pulled up to the emergency ward and grabbed the raven-haired child from the passenger seat.  The poor thing was fading fast, Alfred could tell as he barely made a noise when Alfred moved him. One of his hands were still attempting to put pressure on his wound, but the boy was going to lose consciousness pretty soon.

 

The next few minutes passed in a blur, from handing the child off to the doctors, asking, praying for them to help the poor boy, to standing where they left with him on a stretcher, glancing down at his calloused hands and finding a thin layer of blood, caked onto his skin from handling the child. Alfred swallowed thickly, peering down the hallway where they had taken him- he didn't even know the lad's name.

 

The butler let out a shaky breath, going into the bathroom to wash the blood from his hands and attempt to collect himself. He was in the middle of trying to get the blood from under his fingernails when his cellphone rang- he quickly dried his hands and pulled the device out, staring at the name of his employer on the screen.

 

"Master Bruce. Yes, it went wonderfully, I just ran into some trouble on the way back to my car." Alfred could feel Bruce's protective nature flare-up over the phone, though he didn't react verbally other than to ask if he was okay. "I'm alright, Master Bruce. I'm at the hospital in Fawc--" 

 

"No, that won't be necessary. I brought someone to the hospital, sir. As I said, I'm fine. I'll be back in Gotham after I finish my business here."

 

Alfred could already tell that if he wasn't back in Gotham soon enough, the Batman might make an appearance in Fawcett. "Yes, Master Bruce. I will be home shortly."

 

With that, he hung up, pocketing his phone and walking out of the bathroom and back towards the waiting room. A young woman, obviously a nurse by the look of her duckling-covered scrubs, with a clipboard was waiting there, glancing down at her papers before looking around worriedly. Her eyes glanced towards him and relief flooded her body, a small, worried smile on her face as he approached.

 

"Oh, Sir, you're the one that brought that boy in, yes?" she asked. Alfred nodded.

 

"Is he alright?"

 

"He's going to be. He just got out of surgery, but we were needing to ask you a few questions."

 

Alfred glanced at her clipboard. "Of course- though i'm not sure how much help I would be. I don't know the boy's name." 

 

The nurse's shoulders slumped. "I was hoping you wouldn't say that," she said. "He's probably a kid who either ran away from home and ended up in a bad situation or a homeless victim." he continued, writing something down. "He's dangerously underweight, so I'm leaning towards the latter."

 

Alfred let out a small breath. "Is it alright if I see him?"

 

"Sure- he should wake up soon. We couldn't do much other than give him stitches,  but he lost a lot of blood so he's going to be pretty weak," she said, leading him down a hallway. "Poor kid. Gets stabbed then he has to go into the foster system." the duckling-clad nurse said with a shake of her head.

 

"Trust me, as someone who used to be in the foster system herself... it's not fun. Sometimes you'll get a nice couple that says they just want a kid to love, only to turn around and be someone that thinks cattle brands are for kids."

 

Alfred tensed. Had this child ever gone through something like that? Something like she must have?

 

The pair came to a door, and the nurse knocked lightly on it before opening the door slowly. "Yep, just as I thought. Still knocked out." The sight of the raven-haired boy, one that looked so much like Bruce or any of the other Wayne Clan in their youth, sleeping peacefully struck a chord in the old man. "I'll leave you alone with him, but I'll be back in a little bit to check up on you guys."

 

With that she left, leaving Alfred and the 10-year-old alone in the room together. He walked over to the bed, standing at the foot of it before glancing at a chair beside the bed and deciding to take a seat there.

 

He glanced at the boy, thankful to see there were no more smears of blood dried on his hands and wrists. His hair looked greasy, sticking out in odd angles and the scrapes on his lower cheek looked like they haad been cleaned. Thankfully the child was sleeping peacefully, though that was most likely due to the medication they must have used.

 

Alfred sighed, leaning his head back to stare at the ceiling before pulling his phone out and sending a text to his employer and pseudo-son. 'Going to be a tad later than expected. Something came up in the hospital.'

 

A small ding alerted him to Bruce's reply. 'Okay- tell me if you need me to come down there.'

 

Alfred smiled, shaking his head at his phone before pocketing it and turning his attention back towards the boy-- whose eyes were now open and staring at him. The elder man blinked before smiling gently at him. "Good to see you're awake."

 

The small raven blinked,  letting out a small breath before looking around. "Where..." his voice was raspy, and he swallowed, attempting the words again. "Where am I?" he asked slowly.

 

Alfred crossed his legs. "You're in the hospital. Can you tell me your name, dear boy?"

 

The kid hesitated. "Billy..." he mumbled, and Alfred noticed he didn't give a last name. Billy dropped his gaze to the sheets covering him, carefully not meeting Alfred's eyes.

 

"I'm going to assume that's short for William."

 

Billy nodded, lifting the sheet to look down at his stomach. It was wrapped in bandages, likely to keep the child from picking at it. He dropped the thin cloth and glanced back at Alfred, sitting up slightly despite a wince.  "So...who...who are you? Why're you still here?"

 

Alfred saw the hope in the boy's bright blue eyes fading, being replaced with mistrust and confusion when he looked at Alfred. "I- I mean... I don't know you...and I don't got any money." 

 

"I assumed as much," Alfred said with a small smile. "You're looking much better though."

 

Billy shrugged his shoulders. 

 

"How did this happen?" Alfred asked slowly, tilting his head slightly at the boy as he tensed up, suddenly finding the cloth over him much more interesting than in the previous minutes. The elder man stayed quiet, patiently waiting for the boy to say something, anything. 

 

The raven sighed. 

 

"I was...just in the wrong place at the wrong time. I saw a couple of guys trying to rob an old man, someone that I knew was harmless and couldn't really stick up for himself, and...well, I felt the need to step in." Billy glanced at his abdomen. "Stupid, I know...but if I wasn't the one getting stabbed, he would have been."

 

So he had a miniature vigilante on his hands then. Alfred let out a soft sigh, scratching at the back of his neck. "What you did was very brave, William. You saved someone's life tonight..." he trailed off, getting a strange, almost hopeful look from the boy. It reminded him so much of Dick or Tim when they first started out.

 

The need for some kind of approval, the fact that they knew they had done well, even if they had put themselves in danger, knew in their hearts they were doing right, yet still expected to be punished for their actions.

 

"Do you have somewhere to go?" 

 

Billy slumped slightly. "Not my first trip to the hospital... Soon as I give 'em my name, I'll be back in the foster system..." he said dejectedly, the hope in his eyes dying and being replaced with resolute disappointment.

 

It made Alfred's heartache for the boy.

 

"What if you came with me?"

 

Billy's eyes snapped up, his head swiveling as he stared at Alfred in shock. "What?" his voice was barely a whisper. Alfred stayed quiet, letting the boy absorb thee information. "But- but I barely know you. I don't even know your name."

 

Alfred tensed. How could he have forgotten his manners so quickly? "I apologize," he said,  standing up. "My name is Alfred Pennyworth. It is wonderful to meet your acquaintance, William."

 

"Just Billy is fine..."

 

The elderly man smiled. "Of course, the hospital would do a background check, and I would need time to get certain things in order," he said, carefully not mentioning how 'certain things' involved a billionaire vigilante and his four wild, terrifying at times, children, but if this worked, the boy could learn to call the Wayne clan family.

 

Billy actually seemed to be mulling it over, chewing on his bottom lip in deep thought as he ran his fingers over the cloth sheets of the bed. He met Alfred's eyes, disappointment in his own. Alfred could see, clear as day, that the boy wanted to accept his offer, but there was something holding him back.

 

"I...I can't," he said, dropping his gaze. Alfred tilted his head, hoping the child would elaborate.

 

Billy must have seen this, as he started to fidget in bed. "I- I have responsibilities here, I can't just pack up and leave..." There was something left unsaid, but Alfred wasn't sure just what it was. The boy let out a small sigh. "I'm- I'm really thankful, Mr. Alfred...but I can't leave Fawcett."

 

"What if you gave it a trial run? Gotham's only a couple of hours away, so you could still keep up with your...responsibilities, and if you started to feel homesick you could come back. Give me two weeks, and if you aren't willing to stay after that, I won't bother you again," Alfred said, leaning forward slightly. He couldn't leave this boy to fend for himself, not when every fiber of his being was screaming for him to bring him back to Wayne Manor.

 

Oh goodness, he was turning into Bruce.

 

Alfred was hoping he'd say yes-- otherwise, Fawcett would find itself with as billionaire in town, tracking a homeless child down and not taking no for an answer once Alfred told him about the child.

 

Billy seemed to give this some thought, wincing at a sudden pain in his side before meeting Alfred's eyes. "You...you're sure you want me?" he asked slowly, insecurity flaring in his bright blue eyes.

 

Alfred smiled softly. "As sure as Gotham is dark."

 

A small smile appeared on Billy's face. "Okay...but I'll need to get my stuff first," he said, the boy's eyes twinkling with excitement.

 

"Of course, William."

 

"Seriously, you can call me Billy."

 

"Perish the thought," Alfred said with a smirk.

 

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